ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Wilhelmina Wright to the state Supreme Court.

Dayton announced Wright’s appointment Monday. The 48-year-old St. Paul resident will be the first black woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

On hearing of her appointment, Wright said, “I will work hard to ensure that Minnesotans continue to have a judiciary that is committed to fairness and justice for all who entrust us with their most important affairs. It is my good fortune to devote my life’s work to preserving and to promoting the values of freedom and equal justice — values that I believe in so deeply.”

Former Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Wright to the Court of Appeals in 2002. She was previously a trial judge in Ramsey County District Court and before that, an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota where she prosecuted violent crime and economic fraud cases.

Dayton said Wright has proven her “exceptional judiciary skills” by authoring more than 700 opinions on the Court of Appeals.

“I read several of her opinions before making my decision,” the governor said. “I was greatly impressed by her exceptional intellect, her written communication skills and, most importantly, her excellent judgment. I believe that she will serve the people of Minnesota with great distinction on our Supreme Court.”

Wright graduated from Yale University and got her law degree from Harvard. She grew up in Norfolk, Va.

She cites, as an early inspiration, her mother’s fight to allow African American children to attend white public schools 20 years after the Supreme Court ordered it.

“My mother stood toe to toe with the superintendent of Norfolk,” Wright said. “By her example, that played a major role in my experience of understanding the rule of law and its importance.”

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said Wright would be sworn in soon. She replaces Justice Helen Meyer, a Ventura appointee who announced her retirement in May and officially stepped down earlier in August. Wright and Gildea will be the only women on a seven-member court that once had a majority of them.

Once on the court, Wright will be the only current justice put there by a Democratic governor. Four of its current members were appointed by Pawlenty, one by former Gov. Arne Carlson and one — Justice Alan Page — won his seat by direct election. Justices who are appointed by governors ultimately have to defend the seats in an election; Wright will be on the statewide ballot in 2014.

Dayton said he decided on Wright Sunday night and offered her the post Monday morning.

“It was a very difficult decision, as there were four superb candidates,” he said.

Dayton will get to make at least one more Supreme Court appointment. In 2014, before Dayton’s first term is up, Justice Paul Anderson will reach the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70.

Wright cited a former and a current justice as key inspirations: Justice Rosalie Wahl, who served on the court from 1977 to 1994 and was its first woman justice; and Page, who in 1992 became its first black justice.

“My path has been paved by these two extraordinary justices,” Wright said. “They inspired my service to all Minnesotans.”

Wright is an active member in her community, according to a release sent out by the state. She serves (and has severed) on several committees.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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